"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Markus Howard is a Ridiculously Historic Scorer

Markus Howard is shooting down records | Photo by Ryan Messier - Paint Touches

When I started this project, I went to the most ubiquitous "best player" statistic in basketball: points per game. Everyone following the sport knows that Markus Howard is leading the nation in scoring, but having spent a lot of time this season keeping up the Markus Howard Scoring Record Watch here on Cracked Sidewalks, I've watched as he passed legends from numerous programs.

To understand Howard's ability to score the basketball, you cannot simply compare him to players this year. I looked at the names ahead of him on the points per game list over the past 30 years and two things stood out. First, guys like Morrison, Fredette, and Curry are scoring legends. Second, all of those guys played in mid-major leagues. I mean no disrespect to the schools they represent, but the level of competition is simply not on par with the Big East, where this year every team is in the kenpom top-100.

I pared down the list and decided to compare Howard to all the high-major scorers of the past 30 years to see where he ranked. The only player to rank ahead of Howard in that time was Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. If we go back to that Big Dog season, here are all of the high-major players since to finish within 2 points of Howard's current average:

Player Team PPG Year
Glenn Robinson Purdue 30.3 1993-94
Markus Howard Marquette 27.9 2019-20
Trae Young Oklahoma 27.4 2017-18
J.J. Redick Duke 26.8 2005-06
Doug McDermott Creighton 26.7 2013-14
Michael Beasley K-State 26.2 2007-08
Kevin Durant Texas 25.8 2006-07

The only high-major player in the past three decades to score more points per game for a season than Markus Howard was 1994 National Player of the Year Glenn Robinson. Considering that Robinson season occurred 26 years ago, Howard is having the most prolific scoring season by a high-major player in a lifetime -- literally Markus Howard's 20-year lifetime. When you look at the entirety of the list, it also includes the 2006 National Player of the Year J.J. Redick, the 2007 National Player of the Year Kevin Durant, and the 2014 National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. In fact, every player on the above list to earn a single-digit NCAA seed won the National Player of the Year award (Young was on 10-seed Oklahoma, Beasley was on 11-seed Kansas State).

At this point of the season, Howard is also on pace to crack the top-25 in NCAA career scoring. In the past 25 years, only two other high-major players have had prolific enough careers to accomplish that. At his current pace, he will accomplish that before the Big East Tournament starts. But let's get back to those two other high-major players to crack the top-25 in the past generation. The first was Duke's J.J. Redick, who won the aforementioned 2006 National Player of the Year award. The second was North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, who is 15th in NCAA history with 2,872 points and won the 2008 National Player of the Year award. Every high-major player in the past 25 years to reach the career scoring heights Howard will reach this year won the National Player of the Year award.

Howard thrives in Wojo's offense | Photo by Quinn Harris - Getty Images

Howard largely made his reputation because of his ability to score in bunches, willing his team to victory through the sheer force of his ability to put the ball in the basket. His 52-point effort at Providence as a sophomore was the first time this was recognized nationally. The next year, he put up 45 points twice in a month, with the second prompting then-Buffalo Head Coach Nate Oats to tell Howard "I saw you put 45 on Kansas State, I didn’t think you were going to do it to us." Howard's ability to have massive scoring outbursts led to an online, fan-vote tournament on fellow Marquette blog Anonymous Eagle.

Marquette Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski addressed this on the This Week in the Big East podcast this week, saying "I do think in some respects he's been taken for granted, not necessarily in a conscious way, but people have become numb to 'Markus got 50, Markus got 40, Markus had a quiet 31 tonight.' Shoot, it would've taken me 22 games in my college career to get 31 points." Following the Marquette program, I viscerally remember when Vander Blue scored 30 against South Florida, when Matt Carlino posted 38 against Georgia Tech in Orlando, and when Duane Wilson put up 30 against Tennessee two nights later. 30 points is usually a massive accomplishment in college basketball, but for Markus Howard it's just an average night. We've all become numb to the most prolific scorer of his lifetime.

Howard's ability to dominate a game scoring the basketball is unrivaled in the sport, and nowhere is it more obvious than by looking at the other names being considered for NPOY. Here's a breakdown of the 30-point games by the top-10 of Goodman's NPOY list as well as the team records in those games:

Player 30+ Games Record
Markus Howard 10 9-1
Luka Garza 4 2-2
Myles Powell 3 1-2
Jordan Nwora 2 1-1
Cassius Winston 1 1-0
Vernon Carey 1 1-0
Obi Toppin 1 1-0
Payton Pritchard 0 0-0
Devon Dotson 0 0-0
Malachi Flynn 0 0-0

TOTAL 22 16-6

When talking about the best players in the country, no one has the ability to take over a game by scoring the basketball like Markus Howard. He accounts for more 30+ point games than any three players in the NPOY mix combined and he has the best winning percentage of any player with more than one such game. Howard's 9 wins in 30+ point games is more than the other players in the NPOY top-10 combined.

While 30-point games are almost routine for Howard, the numbers are even more impressive when you compare 40+ point performances.

Player 40+ Games Record
Markus Howard 3 3-0
Luka Garza 1 0-1

Howard has more 40+ point games than the other NPOY candidates combined and he accounts for all of the wins in such games. This isn't anything new for Howard, either. In his career, he has seven games of 40+ for Marquette and the Golden Eagles are 7-0 in those games. When Howard takes over a game, he is virtually assured to will his team to a win.

Jay Bilas is right. Every defense Marquette faces has as its primary goal stopping Markus Howard. In today's day of metrics and video, they are aware of how he flies off every screen, how he will break their hearts with a step-back three, and how he will drive to the paint to finish with a floater or lay-up. Everyone knows what is coming. And they still can't stop it. Even worse, quite often the attempts to stop it actually have the effect of amplifying the pressure he puts on the defense.

No one is contributes more at the line than Markus Howard | Photo by Aaron Gash - AP

Part of the reason Howard is so effective attacking defenses is because no one in the country is better at getting to and converting at the free throw line. Howard leads the country in free throw attempts, is third in fouls drawn/40 minutes, and is one of the best in the nation at making free throws. Howard excels at putting pressure on the defense by getting multiple opposing defenders into foul trouble and making them pay not just by sitting on the bench but by getting points out of those chances. This next table is a list of all the top-100 players in free throw percentage that are within 50 free throw attempts of Howard sorted by free throw makes:

Player Team FTM FTA FT%
Markus Howard Marquette 154 179 86.0
Colbey Ross Pepperdine 137 159 86.2
Antoine Davis Detroit 120 131 91.6
Fatts Russell Rhode Island 117 136 86.0
Harald Frey Montana State 114 131 87.0

None of these players are in competition for NPOY, so what is the significance? Consider the old adage "make more free throws than your opponent takes." These are also the top-5 players in the country in free throw attempts, which means that with the exception of Ross, Howard has made more free throws than any other player in the country has attempted. For additional perspective, consider that Ross has played in 3 more games than Howard has this year. Simply, no one puts more pressure on defenses and makes them pay more for their mistakes than Markus Howard.

What makes this even more impressive is that Marquette has faced the 17th toughest defensive schedule in the country as of this writing according to kenpom.com. And as conference play has begun and the defensive opposition has improved, so has Howard's production -- he's averaging 29.7 ppg in league play. Further, every coach, every player that is matched up with Howard has him at the top of their scouting report. We will dig into this more in a later article, but trust me when I say no NPOY candidate draws as much defensive attention as Markus Howard. And he still leads the nation in scoring.

The reason for that is because like his peers, guys like Robinson, Redick, Durant, Hansbrough, and McDermott, he deserves to be National Player of the Year.

TL;DR version:

  • Markus Howard is averaging more points than any high-major player of the past 30 years other than 1994 National Player of the Year Glenn Robinson.
  • Every high-major player who has scored 25.8 ppg or more & whose team has earned a single-digit NCAA seed has won the National Player of the Year award, including 2006 winner J.J. Redick, 2007 winner Kevin Durant, and 2014 winner Doug McDermott.
  • Howard is on pace to finish as a top-25 scorer in NCAA history; the only other high-major players to accomplish that in the past 25 years are Redick and 2008 National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough.
  • Marquette is 9-1 in games Howard scores 30+ points, the one loss is by 1 point in overtime, and the 9 wins are more than all the other players in the top=10- of Goodman's NPOY list combined.
  • Howard has made more free throws than any other player in the country has taken except one, and that one has played three more games.
  • Howard is doing this despite being the main focus of every defense he plays and has done so against the 17th toughest defensive schedule in the nation.

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